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Parked propeller planes sit off the runway on the east side of the Santa Monica Airport. West Los Angeles homes can be seen in the background, on the other side of Bundy Drive.
Photo by Stephanie Salvatore
Parked propeller planes sit off the runway on the east side of the Santa Monica Airport. West Los Angeles homes can be seen in the background, on the other side of Bundy Drive.

News, City Government, Health, California, Santa Monica, Santa Monica Airport

State Senator Calls For Health Investigation of Santa Monica Airport

Posted Jul. 21, 2011, 6:14 am

Parimal M. Rohit / Staff Writer

A local state senator has called for an investigation of lead-blood levels and air pollution at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) in light of a study, partially funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which indicates “children who live within 500 meters of airports have significantly higher levels of lead in their blood.”

California State Senator Ted W. Lieu (D-Torrance), who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Air Quality, addressed a July 18 letter to Debbie Raphael, California’s EPA director of the Department of Toxic Substance Control. Lieu’s letter requests the “Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) conduct a formal investigation of a dangerously toxic situation for California residents who live adjacent to Santa Monica Airport.”

“Multiple studies have shown that residents near SMO ¬– many of whom live in the Senate district I represent – ingest significantly higher levels of suspended particulate lead and ultra-fine particulate matter,” Lieu wrote in his letter. “I have visited many of these homes and I believe the soil is also contaminated with lead and other toxic particulate matter.”

Lieu based the comments and observations in his letter on a study released on July 13 entitled “A Geospatial Analysis of the Effects of Aviation Gasoline on Childhood Blood Lead Levels.” The study concluded children living within 1,000 meters of an airport observed in North Carolina,

“where aviation gasoline is used may have a significant effect on blood lead levels in children.”

The report adds, “The impacts of aviation gasoline are highest among those children living closest to the airport.”

Lieu added SMO “is a general aviation airport with many small aircraft with piston engines that use aviation gasoline rather than jet fuel” and has children living a lot closer than 1,000 meters to the airport.

“At SMO, children live far closer to the airport, within 500 feet, not 500 meters,” Lieu said, also citing a 2011 South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) report and a 2009 joint study conducted by UCLA and USC. “No airport in the United States has residents who live as close to an airport as at SMO. Some residents live less than 300 feet away, and the exhaust from aircraft blows into their homes on a daily basis… I believe an investigation by DTSC will reveal high levels of lead exposure and blood lead in children, as well as adults, living near SMO.”

SMO Administrator Rod Merl said the airport supports as many scientifically published reports as possible in order to help the facility better operate, though he added any determination of the transportation hub’s future is a matter of public policy.

“We support real, scientific studies,” Merl told the Mirror. “The City (of Santa Monica) is doing a visioning process. So, they will be discussing the future of the airport. The City has worked closely with AQMD. We have been, and continue to work closely with AQMD and EPA. The more scientific studies there are out there, the better it is for decision makers.”

Martin Rubin from the Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP) lauded Lieu’s efforts to draw state government attention to potential environmental concerns surrounding SMO.

“As Sen. Lieu points out in his letter, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no safe level for lead in the blood of children,” Rubin told the Mirror in an email. “The practice flights from SMO’s flight schools repetitiously traveling the same path over Venice, Mar Vista, and West Los Angeles are a particular concern for children living under and around the flight path. This study is another reason why it makes sense to close SMO.”

Rubin was not the only one calling for the closure of SMO. For Lieu, the sheer fact that several studies have been conducted about environmental conditions at SMO is a red flag worthy of a governmental investigation.

“The consistency of the multiple studies conducted at SMO, as well as at other general aviation airports, show that residents living near SMO are living in a toxic atmosphere,” Lieu wrote. “I believe these studies provide more than enough basis for DTSC to conduct a formal investigation into the toxicity of the soil, vapor, and air surrounding SMO.”

Accordingly, Lieu hoped a formal DTSC investigation would potentially result in the ceasing of operations at SMO.

“DTSC’s expertise will be especially critical given the fact that the lease between the Federal government and (the City of) Santa Monica for airport operations at SMO expires in 2015,” Lieu wrote. “The results of DTSC’s investigation will be useful in determining what mitigation measures are necessary at SMO, and whether SMO should even continue operating as an airport past 2015.”

Stating pollution emanating from SMO is regularly overlooked both by City and federal government officials, Rubin said there are better uses for the airport land.

“I strongly believe that the land that is now SMO can, should, and must, be used in a smart, environmentally sensitive way that will be much more beneficial to the area, and that means no more airport,” Rubin said, adding the absence of planes taking off from Santa Monica “would be like a reduction of smoking five packs of cigarettes to two packs a day.”

SMO has long been subject to debate at all levels of government. Just three months ago, Congressional Rep. Henry Waxman, whose 30th congressional district includes Santa Monica and West Los Angeles, managed to include an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Bill of 2011 to address the lack of runway safety at SMO.

A few days later, the Los Angeles City Council reportedly passed a resolution announcing its intent to support specific legislation that would permanently establish a new flight plan at SMO, taking planes directly over Santa Monica homes while also shutting down the six flight schools operating at the airport.

Post a comment


Jul. 21, 2011, 4:45:32 pm

dog is my copilot said...

I hope they find out that there are no ill effects to children that live close by especially since the house in the photo that looks like a castle is a daycare for very young children. Not sure if the reporter or photographer knew that since it was not mentioned in the story. I have been in aviation for 27 years but if it is a choice between airplanes and children's health - the airport loses.

Jul. 22, 2011, 4:28:59 pm

Max said...

The reality of airports is, you build an airport, people decide to move next to the airport for whatever reason, and then proceed to complain about the noise and other issues. Now granted, if there is a lead and particulate level issue, that does need to be addressed. But that means cleaning up aircraft fuel. Just because you close the airport, the toxins that are already there will not magically disappear.

Jul. 22, 2011, 5:07:18 pm

dog is my copilot said...

Just a short list of what you can find in the air around an airport, in aviation fuel, and blows out of airplanes exhaust: Freon 11, Freon 12, Methyl Bromide, Dichloromethane, cis-l,2-Dichloroethylene, 1,1,1-Trichloro-ethane, Carbon Tetrachloride, Benzene, Trichloroethylene, Toluene, Tetrachloroethene, Ethylbenzene, m,p-Xylene, o-Xylene, Styrene, 1,3,5-Trimethyl-benzene, 1,2,4-Trimethylbenzene, o-Dichlorobenzene, Formaldehyde, Acetaldehyde, Acrolein, Acetone, Propinaldehyde, Crotonaldehyde, Isobutylaldehyde, Methyl Ethyl Ketone, Benzaldehyde, Veraldehyde, Hexanaldehyde, Ethyl Alcohol, Acetone, Isopropyl Alcohol, Methyl Ethyl Ketone, Butane, Isopentane, Pentane, Hexane, Butyl Alcohol, Methyl Isobutyl Ketone, n,n-Dimethyl Acetamide, Dimethyl Disulfide, m-Cresol, 4-Ethyl Toulene, n-Heptaldehyde, Octanal, 1,4-Dioxane, Methyl Phenyl Ketone, Vinyl Acetate, Heptane, Phenol, Octane, Anthracene, Dimethylnapthalene (isomers), Flouranthene, 1-methylnaphthalene, 2-methylnaphthalene, Naph-thalene, Phenanthrene, Pyrene , Benzo(a)pyrene, 1-nitropyrene, 1,8-dinitropyrene, 1,3-Butadiene, sulfites, nitrites, nitrogen oxide, nitrogen monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen trioxide, nitric acid, sulfur oxides, sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid, urea, ammonia, carbon monoxide, ozone, particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5). There is a longer list on what they do to you and especially children.

Jul. 23, 2011, 12:53:44 pm

Natalie McAdams said...

The City of Santa Monica is going to do nothing as they have done for years. Why b/c they don't care about the residents of West LA and Venice and apparently even some of their own residents. For God's sake they put a children's park and playing fields in the middle of the toxic fumes! Talk about liability. They are afraid of their exposure if they finally admit the level of their deception and they should be. Thank God the City of LA has finally started doing something to help those of us who live around SMO. 2105 can't come soon enough! And some relief has to come before that.

Jul. 23, 2011, 2:02:08 pm

Neighborhood Families said...

Santa Monica Airport is not currently vital to anything in our state or country and is merely a risky luxury item. It could disappear tomorrow and only few would mind. Its revenues, from just the aircraft alone, do not cover its expense. Additionally, the liability that the city of Santa Monica will assume from law suits surrounding an accident caused by a known lack of safety controls, and fully documented health issues, from lead and toxins will be incalculable. I still can’t understand how schools and parks were ever allowed to be positioned under and around the flight path. SMO only has a single runway, which in an event of a ridiculous hypothetical shut down of LAX, could not fill the void. Furthermore, I have heard comments that it is necessary to have SMO in the event of a catastrophic earthquake. How useful is a single runway with a large crack in its only surface? In the event of any emergency situation, we will be utilizing helicopters landing in parks and open fields. To get back on point, Santa Monica prides itself on being one of the most environmentally progressive cities in the country. They have a dedicated “Office of Sustainability and the Environment” to support this cause. We have a ban on smoking in all public places that now extends to apartments and hotels, a ban on leaf blowers causing pollution and noise, and an overall noise ordinance limiting noise to 75dB. The CDC states that it has a zero tolerance on lead exposure, and new findings on the damaging effects of pollution and noise are reported daily as our technology advances to identify these hazards. SMO is a big hypocritical black hole in the middle of a role model city. There were days when smoking was allowed on commercial aircraft and only a single row of seats separated smokers from families; that did not mean it without ill effects. Even if I personally benefited from the use of SMO, I could not conscionably support its continuance. If the FAA is not going to relinquish its control in 2015, we citizens and residents need to evaluate how to ensure our health and safety. City council needs to establish the exact date that the property reverts back to Santa Monica’s ownership, 2015, 2023, or at all. Their agenda for the use of the land needs to be publicly outlined so its residents have no misunderstanding. We cannot wait until the lease expires to then initiate a game plan. Otherwise, we residents need to continue discussions of a class action law suit against our city and state to ensure our health and safety.

Jul. 23, 2011, 5:11:09 pm

Hal said...

Max, There are two houses pictured in the photo: One is a 'castle-like' residence; I live in the second (Tudor style). I moved here in early 1987. The residence that you mention was indeed a day-care for some two years. The owner ceased caring for children in the autumn, last year. (Just to bring you up to date.) Incidentally, it might strike you and the City of St. Monica as ironic that while it is a criminal offense to smoke at the Spit Fire restaurant, it is quite acceptable for the city to permit jets to spew contaminating particulates over a region housing one-third of one million Los Angeles constituents. Socialist-inclined bureaucrats can be disturbingly hypocrical when it comes to protecting their particular interests. Hal

Jul. 25, 2011, 2:56:18 am

Randall Barnwell said...

We would like our apartment to be monitored and checked as we often have intense jet fuel smells permeating our place. It began when they airport started to allow the huge jets they have flying in now. We are not able to move or we would. We live in the Colonial Gardens apartments. A health hazard in and of itself.

Aug. 1, 2011, 11:04:56 pm

The Enforcer said...

Um I was born in the 70's and grew up near the airport. How come my friends and I are not dropping like flies from cancer? Boy people sure are whiners! This is a BS attack on SMO by Lieu. Funny how come he does not mention TOA Torrance Airport (Zamerini Field) in his report? Hell not only do they have everything Santa Monica does but they even have helicopter manufacturing! But I guess the people of Torrance are immune huh Mr. Lieu.

Aug. 12, 2011, 5:24:41 pm

Pete said...

When you go to LAX and fly to visit your family across the country...just remember that the reason you are being safely flown from point A to point B is the pilot who started out in small planes at a flight school with their private pilot license...I'd rethink that statement about the airport not being vital to anything in the state/country.

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